Inventor creates 3D printed robotic arms for missing children’s limbs
Changing lives, one limb at a time
A chance encounter at the 2013 Colorado State Science Fair would change LaChappelle’s career path. A little girl approached him, curious about his invention. She had a prosthesis on her right arm which was little more than a claw. He watched it move and opened it.
“It was extremely revealing to me,” says LaChappelle.
He learned from the girl’s parents that the prosthetic arm cost $ 80,000. Despite the high price, the limb was bulky, uncomfortable, and not very useful. In addition, the girl would soon outgrow the member and would need a new one.
“I couldn’t accept this,” he said, adding that he knew he could build a cheaper, more user-friendly arm.
“That’s when I dedicated my life to creating better prosthetic technology,” he says.
In 2014, at the age of 18, LaChappelle started his own business called Unlimited Tomorrow, with financial support from life coach Tony Robbins.
Technology that changes life
During the early years of the company’s existence, LaChappelle had to develop the technology to create custom members for a fraction of the cost of existing members.
The model he eventually developed allows users to scan their limbs using a 3D scanner in their homes, rather than having to have a fit in person. Then the company prints, assembles and tests the member. Finally, it is sent to the user. By streamlining the production process, LaChappelle brought the cost of its prosthetic limb, called TrueLimb, down to $ 8,000.
Her first client was a little girl named Momo, who was missing part of her arm and right hand. In 2017, met in Seattle, where the inventor helped equip Momo with his new prosthetic arm.
TrueLimb looks and feels like a human arm, right down to the fingernails (which can be polished). It is controlled by the user’s muscles just like a real limb.
Every time someone is fitted with a TrueLimb, they go through a muscle training process, during which sensors in the socket of the prosthesis learn to detect their muscles.